Professor Lydia Plowman

Co-Director of Research, Knowledge Exchange and Impact (RKEI) / Chair in Education & Technology and Associate Director, Scottish Graduate School of Social Science


My research interests stem from my early career teaching English in secondary schools, combined with an enjoyable time working as a postdoc in the School of Cognitive and Computing Sciences at the University of Sussex.

This was followed by a period as Research Programme Manager at the Scottish Council for Research in Education, then as Professor in the School of Education, University of Stirling and now at the University of Edinburgh. I was Dean of Research in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science until December 2017.

Responsibilities & affiliations

With Prof. Gillean McCluskey, I am co-Director for Research at Moray House. I am also Associate Director for the Scottish Graduate School of Social Science and was, until December 2017, the Dean of Research for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. I was a member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Strategic Advisory Network from 2013 until 2019 and am currently a member of an EPSRC working group on Responsible Research and Innovation. I was elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2013.

I was a member of the advisory group for the Technology-Enhanced Learning programme funded by ESRC and EPSRC (£12 million from 2008 to 2012) and was Vice-Chair of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Grant Assessment Panel B until July 2015. I am an invited member of assessment panels for the Norwegian Research Council (2013-15, 2019) and a member of the Carnegie Trust's Collaborative Research Grants panels (2016 - 2018).

Academy of Social Sciences

Open to PhD supervision enquiries?


Areas of interest for supervision

I welcome enquiries for doctoral study in the areas of: children and digital media; digital play and learning; digital media in the home; toys; parenting and families; visual methods and ethnographic studies of children and families.

In the first instance, email me with a brief (one or two paragraphs) outline of your intended doctoral study, information about your Masters level study (where, when, what), and why you think I would be an appropriate supervisor for the project. I will assess its fit with my research expertise and availability and get back to you.

Current PhD students supervised

  • Valentina Andries - Promoting play in a children's hospital: a person-centred approach to technology design with families
  • Xin Luo - Parents' voices on WeChat: Exploring the modernisation of early years education in China
  • Maureen Finn - A socio-material reading of belonging: mobile children and mobile devices in school spaces
  • Zarina Muminova - Parental engagement in children's early learning in rural Tajikistan
  • Sabina Savadova - Young children’s everyday experiences with digital media: Listening to families’ stories in Azerbaijan

Research summary

I have more than twenty years’ experience of conducting research with children and technologies and finding out about their play and learning. My PhD on designing for group use of interactive media, with a particular emphasis on the role of narrative in supporting learning, was awarded in 1992 - and while the laserdisc technology that I was investigating has long been obsolete, many of the pedagogical and design issues remain the same.

My research interests are mainly in digital media and children’s play and learning in a range of formal and informal settings, but over the last few years I’ve become increasingly interested in the ways in which technology is used for leisure, work and educational purposes in the home, with a focus on young children and how technology is integrated into family life. In pursuit of these interests, I draw on anthropology, learning sciences and cultural psychology for theoretical and methodological insights applicable to the study of technology embedded in detailed analysis of its social, cultural and educational contexts of use - along with a concern for interaction design and user experience. The shift in the focus of my research from the compulsory years of schooling, formal learning environments and workplaces to the home and preschool settings has inevitably led to an interest in diverse domestic and leisure technologies, including Internet of Things, tablets, dual screen technologies, mobile phones and connected toys.

Profile on

Profile on Google Scholar

ORCID public record

Current research interests

Digital Play is our response to the many people who tell us that they would like to know more about the role of digital media in the lives of the children they look after. It focuses on young children aged up to five or six and is intended to be useful for educators, students, childminders and others working with parents and caregivers at home or in early childhood education and care settings. Building on many years of research in this area, we look at findings afresh and provide an overview of some of the information that’s available. Our aim is to support professionals and caregivers in feeling more confident about developing strategies for integrating digital media into family life. The Digital Play booklet (62pp) is free to download at

Affiliated research centres

Project activity


April 2019 - How can we develop young children’s understanding of personal data? (Co-I. PI is Andrew Manches)

June 2019 - January 2020: Digital Play (PI, ESRC-funded knowledge exchange project)

November 2016 to May 2017: Young children’s digital play: developing resources to support parents and professionals (Principal Investigator, ESRC Impact Acceleration Account).

September 2016 – February 2017: Evaluation of a literacy app, consultancy for Save the Children (Co-Investigator).

2015-2016: Exploring play and creativity with tablet computers, ESRC Knowledge Exchange Opportunities. The PI is Prof. Jackie Marsh, University of Sheffield, and findings were reported in the Guardian and BBC News in October 2015.

Exploring play and creativity with tablet computers

Tablets and children article on Guardian website

Tablets and children article on BBC News

A small-scale study with Ben Fletcher-Watson and Dr Andrew Manches has looked at the factors shaping infants' interactions with digital devices, focusing on how these interactions are mediated by caregivers.


During 2014 I investigated the Internet of Things in the context of children's play with toys at home and considered some of the emergent issues for the toy industry and the public in conjunction with Dr Andrew Manches and Dr Pauline Duncan. With researchers in seven countries, I contributed to the European Commission's pilot study on young children (0-8) and digital technology.

Young Children (0-8) and digital technology: A qualitative exploratory study across seven countries

Earlier work has investigated toys, technology and play in the everyday lives of young children at home and developed ways of involving children and other family members as active participants in research. As Principal Investigator for Young Children Learning with Toys and Technology at Home, an ESRC-funded project (2008-2011) which investigated how children perceive, acquire and develop their experiences with technology at home, I was able to build on findings from a cluster of projects on children's uses of technology in the early years. Some of the ways in which findings from this project can inform professionals from the children's media industries were highlighted at an ESRC Festival of Social Science event in November 2012 organised in conjunction with the Children's Media Conference.

Other projects with a focus on children’s play, learning and technology funded by the UK research councils include:

  • Entering the e-Society: Young children’s development of e-literacy (Co-I, ESRC, 2005-07) investigated the early development of digital literacies among preschool children aged three to five. The study focused on children’s home experiences, exploring the extent to which children’s developing digital literacies can usefully be compared with their developing print literacy and the opportunities for learning that families offer.
  • Interplay: Play, Learning and ICT in Preschool Education (PI, ESRC, 2003-05) was funded by the ESRC’s Teaching and Learning Research programme and identified ways of enhancing three- and four-year-old children’s experiences with ICT through guided interaction with practitioners, peers and parents, with the emphasis in preschool settings.
  • Educational Research and the Design of Interactive Media, a series of ESRC-funded research seminars in conjunction with Futurelab and sponsored by the Department for Education, Becta, Hewlett Packard and the Scottish Executive (2003-2004, PI) which explored the knowledge needs of designers and policy-makers and the ways in which educational research can inform their decision-making in the context of technologies for learning.
  • Developing research capacity in technology-enhanced learning (2006-07, PI) a small-scale study for the ESRC Teaching and Learning Research Programme to inform its programme on technology-enhanced learning.
  • Exploring and mapping interactivity with digital toy technology (2001-02, PI), a project funded by the ESRC/EPSRC.
  • Narrative construction and the comprehension of interactive multimedia, funded by ESRC/EPSRC (1996-99, co-applicant) on the role of narrative in the design of interactive media and its impact on the learner's construction of meaning.

Projects funded from other sources, include:

  • Digital Childhoods, a series of events funded by Scottish Universities Insight Institute (2011) with Joanna McPake and Christine Stephen.
  • Children's access to ICT at home and their preparation for primary school (funded by Becta – British Educational Communications & Technology Agency - with Joanna McPake and Christine Stephen) which focused on how economically disadvantaged preschool children and their families use technologies at home.
  • Three studies to develop an ICT strategy for the early years of education (Scottish Executive, 2002-03).
  • Evaluation of a local authority ICT network for schools (Scottish Executive, 2000-02, PI).
  • Evaluation of the Digital Broadcasting Competition (DfEE/Becta, 2000-01, PI).

CONSULTANCY activities include a review of research literature on children's uses of digital media for the Children's Media Foundation (March 2014). This is designed to provide some balanced information on six of the big questions that parents often ask - such as 'will spending too much time in front of a screen affect my child's social skills?'

Parent Portal on Children's Media Foundation site

Thoughts on how to support a young child's early interactions with digital media, 'Are tablets good for children?', were published in December 2014 on the BBC iWonder website as a supplement to developing guided interaction points for some of the CBeebies games in conjunction with Juliet Hancock.

Are tablets good for children? on BBC

CBeebies lauches new Storytime app on BBC

During 2013 I evaluated the learning content of some of the games on the CBeebies website, and wrote a CBeebies grown-ups blog as part of the BBC's 'first time online' initiative whiich provides a range of interactive games for two- and three-year-old children. I contributed to a BBC Radio 4 programme on 'digital kids' (September 2012).

CBeebies grown-ups blog

BBC Radio 4 'Digital Kids'


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